‘You’re either with them or against them’

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By Andrew Innis and Adrian Morrow

Members of the Ryerson Students’ Union are looking to put money and manpower behind a bid to quit the Canadian Federation of Students.

Ibrahim (Abe) Snobar, RSU’s VP Life and Events, has drafted a motion to start the process of de-federating from the national student lobby group to which the RSU pays $250,000 a year. The move is receiving heavy opposition from RSU President Nora Loreto and many others, signalling the start of a long battle.

“This is giving students a chance to review their membership in the CFS,” Snobar said.

The CFS is an activist group that counts most of the country’s student unions among its members. Each Ryerson student gives $15 annually to the organization. Snobar wants to hold a referendum to redirect that money to the RSU.

The union has been one of CFS’s most active members, but Snobar and some other members are critical of the organization.

“I was never opposed to the CFS until I started trying to deal with these folks,” he said. He’s concerned about the CFS interfering in students’ unions and shutting down internal dissent.

“(They act like) you’re either with them or against them,” he said. At a CFS Ontario meeting last winter, an executive from Nippissing was booed out of the room when she pointed out problems with the organization’s elections, he said.

Loreto, however, is angry that Snobar is looking to spend the RSU’s money on the campaign, saying no one on the student union’s executive was elected on a platform of leaving the CFS.

“It’s funneling staff and resources into your own agenda. That’s crazy. I don’t think any student would agree with that,” she said. “It’ll be a disaster, but I think (the motion) will pass. That would be my prediction.”

VP Finance Chris Drew agreed that the motion would waste the RSU’s money.

“For the first time in my five years here, I can offer no guarantee on the financial state of the RSU,” he said. “Students should be very concerned.”

In order to leave the federation, a school must collect 10 per cent of its students’ signatures in favour of de-federating, inform the CFS, then wait six months before holding a referendum.

The Commerce Society, led by Snobar’s brother Abdullah, started collecting signatures last week. He was confident the society would collect the 2,100 signatures necessary.

CFS supporters, including Loreto, have been passing around a counter-petition they hope will reach the same number.

Abdullah argues the CFS is anti-corporate, which puts it at odds with the society.

“Business students are the biggest donors on campus to the CFS,” he said of the 6,000 students in the society. “They protest against the very corporations business students could end up managing. We’re spending $15 a year for them to hate us.”

He also said the CFS has been ineffective in getting tuition fees reduced.

Amanda Aziz, the CFS’s national chairperson, argues the organization is better than individual students’ unions working on their own.

“It’s always more effective when working together and pooling resources, we’ll be more successful,” she said.

Joel Duff, CFS’s Ontario organizer, disagrees with Abdullah’s assertion that the group is anti-corporate, pointing to the Student Phone program offered through the CFS and Rogers as an example of how the federation cooperates with large corporations for the benefit of its student members.

This isn’t the first time the RSU has tried to quit the CFS. In 2004, then-president Dave MacLean tried to de-federate, but had to back down when students at a semi-annual general meeting voted against the move.

Other students’ unions, including the Acadia Students’ Union at Acadia University, have discovered the consequences of trying to leave the CFS.

The CFS argued that ASU’s successful 1996 referendum to de-federate was invalid and sued them to recoup their membership dues from the last few years, despite the fact that failing to pay dues for six months results in expulsion from the group, said Kyle Steele, ASU’s president.

“It’s pretty ridiculous. They’re arguing against their own constitution,” he said. The two sides will be meeting in court this December, and Steele just wants the whole thing over with.

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